Late last year I traveled to Port Moresby to interview some of PNG's newly elected MPs for the Lowy Institute's Leadership Mapping Project. Earlier interviews in this latest series were with Deputy Opposition leader Sam Basil, and one of the three female MPs, Governor Julie Soso.
One of the most interesting discussions I had during my week in Port Moresby was with the new Attorney-General, the Hon Kerenga Kua. He is new to both the portfolio and to parliament, although politics formed a definite part of his very clear career plan.
Kua has had a distinguished career in law, having been a founding partner in a successful commercial law practice in Port Moresby for 19 years after a 5-year stint in Sydney with the Australian firm Blake Dawson Waldron. His goal, he told me in October, was to establish a sound financial footing for himself and his family so he would not be vulnerable to the notorious corruption which infects PNG politics.
The Attorney-General has featured in the Australian press over the last week because the 'colourful' Opposition Leader, Belden Namah, is suing the government in the Supreme Court in an attempt to close down the Manus Island processing centre. While Namah says the court action is entirely motivated a desire to uphold PNG's constitution, his words suggest a slightly deeper agenda, telling ABC radio 'we can't go outside of our constitution, outside of our laws to try and please our friends.'
My conversation with the Attorney-General in October, however, suggested that 'pleasing our friends' might indeed be one of the PNG Government's motives in hosting Australia's asylum-seekers. The Attorney-General has a great admiration for Australia as a country that 'gets things right', and told me:
The two countries are deeply bonded from the PNG perspective...knowing that we're stuck with each other...you can only understand it in times of crisis. There are very few things PNG can do for Australia...[with] Manus Island, I see that as one opportunity to help Australia — to thank it for everything it's done for us...to reciprocate for all the help we have been getting in the past.
Kua explained that opposition in PNG to the Manus Island processing centre was presented in myriad ways; as a criminal issue, as an issue of international legal obligations, and now, Namah has painted it as a breach of the nation's constitution. The Attorney-General is well-equipped to take on the Opposition in the Supreme Court, having been the lawyer for the Somare Government before the last election.
In our interview, the Attorney-General looks in some detail at the challenges for PNG's law and justice sector, the capacity and structure of the legal system, the make-up of the Supreme Court, the role of the Ombudsman and plans for an Independent Commission against Corruption.